The classic fairytale of a Princess lulled into a century-long coma after pricking her finger on a cursed spindle is hardly new to most people – we have the brilliant work of Walt Disney to thank for that. The Birmingham Royal Ballet group retain this brilliance – turning the understated story of Princess Aurora (Natasha Oughtred) into an magical production suitable for the whole family, and just in time for the lead up to Christmas.
Peter Wright’s production showcases the best of Marius Petipa’s stunning choreography, with superb complementation from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia orchestra playing the great Tchaikovsky’s genius musical composition (conducted on this occasion by Gavin Sutherland). The relationship between dance and music is profound, yet effortlessly delivered – with powerful pulses accompanying the evil Fairy Carabosse’s (Callie Roberts) solos, and gentle, elegant tempos partnering her opposition The Lilac Fairy (Yvette Knight). Sleeping Beauty represents how good will always overcome evil, and this production has stayed committed to that message.
Natasha Oughtred as Aurora is everything that little girls, dreaming of becoming ballerinas, aspire to. Both physically and beautifully perfect for the role, she flawlessly performs the tale of the Princess’ fateful life with the elegance and poise that her character deserves. Of the three main female roles – Princess Aurora, The Fairy Carabosse and The Lilac Fairy – Oughtred shines the most, with a particularly astounding solo during Aurora’s coming-of-age ceremony, in which she balances on point, on one leg, with nothing more than minor support from the Princess’ four ‘suitors’ (Yasou Atsuji, Jamie Bond, Jonathan Payn and Benjamin Soerel). This small but impressionable routine single-handedly proves the physical and mental strength required for the art of ballet, leaving the audience with a tremendous new-found respect for the discipline. Cesar Morales as Prince Florimund – the ‘Prince Charming’ and hero of the story – also performs his role with perfect execution and allure, and anything less than this would utterly ruin the appeal and charisma of his character.
The Sleeping Beauty is one of many great examples of why ballet really is more than just tutus and men in tights. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s portrayal of Aurora’s tale is classically beautiful on it’s own, but the magnificent set (brilliantly designed by Phillip Prowse), lighting (recreated by Peter Teigen) and dazzling costumes are collectively truly outstanding – a particularly enchanting scene being in the ‘forest’ of Act Two, where woodland-stenciled backdrops and clever spot-lighting bring the magical meeting of Prince and Princess to life.
Yes, the production is long considering the absence of dialogue; but with a Prologue, three Acts, two full-length intervals and a three minute break, it is easily manageable – even for the youngest members of the audience. Under David Bintley’s experienced guidance, it is easy to see why the Birmingham Royal Ballet is as popular choice as ever for theatre-goers. Plymouth’s Theatre Royal will now have to wait until March 2014 for the company’s next visit (performing The Prince of Pagodas), but when that time comes I have no doubt that it will receive the same enthusiast turn-out as The Sleeping Beauty has.